The type of weather I love on a mule deer hunt!
It’s no secret that I’m addicted to mule deer. So my entire yearly hunting application strategy revolves solely around deer. What follows is my 2022 hunting application plan, and also some insight into how I’m also ensuring I have mule deer tags in future years as well. This multi-state strategy has worked very well for me.
As most remember, I burn my mule deer points as often as I can and you’ll always hear me repeat this sentence I came up with when it comes to describing points, “You can't eat points. Points don't fill the freezer. Points don't look good on the wall.” I’ve always been a huge promoter of the “hunt now, not later” strategy.
In my opinion, I’d rather hunt more than continue to sit on the bench and wait to try to draw hunts that take a ton of points or what others consider “dream hunts.” You'll never get those years back that you sat on the bench and just built up points applying for hunts that you hear people talking about as the best of the best, but are just unobtainable unless you're willing to wait for a miracle to draw or you're just fine with not hunting.
In my opinion, you should be taking advantage of OTC hunts, attempting to hunt units that take fewer points or picking up second choice units or even leftover tags if your ultimate goal is to take a giant buck.
You can pull a fairly decent tag every year if you want to adjust your strategy and set your expectations accordingly if you don't have a ton of points. At least you're out hunting, learning, and expanding your skillset each year. Hunting more often will lead to becoming a more efficient hunter. Of all the mule deer tags I’ve had in my life. I have never drawn a tag with more than four points. And that tag I drew with four points, I actually burned my points on a very easy-to-draw tag that took way fewer points because I just wanted to hunt and I still took an absolute giant buck.
Keep in mind, while I love burning my points and hunting, there are some states that I’m fine waiting out the long game and acquiring lots of points and not hunting that state for a while. Why am I fine with that? The only reason I’m okay with this is I have a multi-state strategy and since I apply in so many states, I don’t need to rely on these "dream" hunts to hunt every year. I’m totally fine waiting it out in a few locations for a hunt that might be a dream hunt for me, only because I’m hunting other states each and every year.
Again, since I love hunting low point units, OTC tags, second choice tags, etc… I feel like this puts me at an advantage to have at least two deer tags in my pocket annually.
This is a state that can either be my plan in the winter for over-the-counter archery options in December or January and/or draw hunts. Like other states, I do have a ton of deer points built up and so I think of Arizona as a very long-term strategy when it comes to using my bonus points. I typically apply for my unit of choice that I consider one of the best units in the state and just cross my fingers that I get lucky. I'm nowhere close to being at the top of the point pool, so I just have to understand it is going to be a long waiting game. I was fortunate to have taken a truly giant archery Coues deer in Mexico back in 2014, so because of that, I'm not willing to ever burn my points on a Coues deer hunt in Arizona.
Again, the beauty of Arizona, if I don't draw some tags in other states, I could pick up an OTC archery mule deer tag and make this a state to focus on.
Back on December 1, 2021 I picked up a general season OTC tag for mule deer in Idaho. This is a state that has made a lot of big changes on the tag process and is not a fallback state by any means! I make a lot of effort to hunt Idaho and it is one of my all-time favorite mule deer states. Even though I already have a general season mule deer permit, I will still apply for a controlled hunt mule deer tag in June. And if I draw a unit I'm looking at, I might consider turning my OTC tag in for the controlled hunt. Then, depending on what I draw in other states, I might also look at picking up a second deer tag in Idaho during their leftover tag process later this summer if some nonresident deer tags get turned back in.
Last year I burned my preference points in Colorado and so this year I’m starting back at zero. I routinely do this in Colorado and so this year I’m going to find a place that I can hunt with no points and might even look at trying to draw a muzzleloader permit or an easy to draw rifle tag. There are so many opportunities in Colorado and I just want to have a tag in this amazing state! I always feel like you never know what could happen in Colorado and even the easy-to-draw units produce giant mule deer. This is why I’ve never carried many points in Colorado. Give me a map and a tag and I feel like I can have a successful hunt. And if I'm not lucky in the draw, I'll turn my focus to the secondary draw and/or the leftover list.
Last year I burned my general nonresident combination deer preference points. In all honestly, it was a really tough year in Montana in 2021 and I passed up a ton of young bucks and ultimately decided to just eat my tag. Sure it might have just been a localized event with only seeing small bucks where I’ve typically been hunting, but I’ve heard the same thing from all my resident friends across the state about the low number of mature bucks. There will definitely be some mature bucks to be hunted in 2022, but at this point, I’m still undecided on what I will do in Montana in 2022.
Being a resident of Nevada, I always have options. For several years I took advantage of archery mule deer hunting in Nevada and burned my points regularly. It was an easy fit in my schedule and I could even hunt on the weekends if needed so I didn’t have to burn my precious vacation time.
But over the years as most know I haven’t archery hunted as much. And now my strategy in Nevada has switched. I now consider Nevada a “trophy state” like most people do and so I have adjusted to how I apply accordingly. So this state I just shoot for the stars and apply for hunts that I'm okay with waiting it out to draw the unit I want.
This is an interesting state. I have been applying in New Mexico for a lot of years for mule deer, and so far I’ve just been unlucky in the draw. I mainly apply for what I consider to be some of the best of the best units, so I usually don’t go into this state expecting to draw. When I look at my overall application strategy, I would be very excited to draw a tag here, but since I typically pull tags in other states, I don’t lean on New Mexico as I state I will typically draw, but you can’t draw if you don’t apply. But again, I'm currently weighing out my options in New Mexico and I might adjust my application strategy to try to pull a tag this year or just continue on the path I've been doing.
I have an absolute plethora of limited entry mule deer points in Utah and a decent amount of general deer points. I've had some great hunts in Utah in the past and I really think this might be the year I apply to burn my general season deer points. This state I go into it with two different strategies. I know my limited entry points are going to be used for a hunt at some point either if I'm lucky in the draw, if I'm able to wait out and pull a tag I want, or maybe eventually I'll just cash them in on on a unit I know I could draw. Then I use the general season hunt as a way to jump into the state every so often.
There are a lot of different ways to approach Wyoming for mule deer. And it's a state that I really enjoy hunting. I'm applying with hopes to draw a mule deer tag in Wyoming, but I don't exactly have the required points. If I pull the tag, I'll make it work with my schedule, especially because you can't turn back a Wyoming permit.
I actually had plans in place in 2021 to hunt mule deer in Nebraska and grind it out on some of the public land areas that looked intriguing to me. But I decided a few weeks before I was going to hunt this state, that I should probably just get some more work done around the office and didn't go on this hunt. So... with that said, I'm eager to make plans to hunt there again. At least I'll have more time now to really hone in on where I'll hunt and figure out the terrain and deer habits of that state.
I have only hunted mule deer in this state once, and I passed up every buck I found on the hunt. It’s a state I really want to hunt again, but the past several years I’ve just been building points. Again, I have a plan that I stick to my normal hunts, so I’m in no real rush to draw here. I'm going to just purchase a point in Oregon again in 2022.
I have a lot of points built up in South Dakota and one of these years I might cash them in. Again, I just need to find the time to possibly give up another hunt to hunt South Dakota. But the thought of hunting a new state and possibly new terrain intrigues me a lot! Like Oregon, I'm just going to pick up a point in 2022.
This state doesn't get a lot of love, especially when it comes to nonresidents. But it is a state that I really want to try out at some point. So this state is on my radar and I've been putting in a lot of time on GOHUNT Maps recently working on a strategy.
The type of weather I love on a mule deer hunt!
You’ll hear it a lot that certain units for mule deer or any species are easy to draw or have leftovers for a reason and caution should be taken when pulling these places. Even though I hear that a lot and I’ve even mentioned that to others before, keep in mind that anytime you can put a tag in your pocket is a win.
I feel like I thrive off these easy-to-draw opportunities/tags people forget about. If I’m hunting mule deer, I’m learning about mule deer. If I’m learning about mule deer I’m adding to my mule deer toolkit. Each time I’m hunting mule deer, I’m making myself a more proficient hunter. And all those experiences add up. Sure I still have those hunts where I can’t find a mature buck or pass up animals. But every day I’m hunting with a tag in my pocket is another day when I might put the pieces of the puzzle together and learn something about that spot and find a hidden gem.
The other huge benefit to hunting easy to draw tags is you can essentially return them year after year. That gives you a huge leg up! If you can hunt a spot year after year, or even every other year, you will eventually find the information that leads you to success.
This is why if the draws aren’t in my favor, or maybe that year I shoot for the stars on an application and don’t pull a tag. You better believe that I lean heavily on these turned-back tag opportunities. You have leftover draws, first come first serve opportunities, etc. There have been several years where I have picked up these tags and had absolutely phenomenal mule deer success.
I watch Colorado’s leftover list like a hawk, I pay attention to Idaho’s returned lists, secondary draws and even Nevada’s first-come-first-serve list. Sometimes all it takes is a little dedication and you can add hunts to your schedule if needed.
I know I’m going to strike some nerves with this statement, but if you want to hunt mule deer and get better at hunting mule deer, you should probably give up elk hunting.
So I'll instantly follow that up with a caveat, the same could be said if you’re passionate about elk. If you want to be great at hunting elk, don’t hunt deer.
What I really mean when I say that is we all only have so much vacation time. So chose what you’re passionate about and pursue it. Or if you don't care what species you get a tag for, then that is totally fine as well. Just apply for species and go hunt.
So yes… each year I pretty much give up the thought that I’m going to draw elk hunts. But that doesn’t mean I won’t apply for elk. I’ll still apply for elk hunts, but my strategy is the long game. Since some states you just never know when you’ll draw, I’ll shoot for the stars and put my name in the hat to try to draw the very best elk tag. And I just realize that I’m not anticipating drawing, but since I need to either purchase a point or apply to get a point, I might as well apply for the best, that way if I draw, I could probably move something around in my mule deer schedule for a truly phenomenal elk tag.
And having the notion that I’m not “trying” to draw an elk tag, means the sting of not drawing is way less :) The other reason I have to be cautious with my elk points is I have very high double-digit point totals in every western state for elk. So I don’t want to just casually apply and draw a ton of elk hunts in one year and miss out on mule deer.
I obviously apply for a lot of other species across the West. After all, if I'm buying a required hunting license, it just makes sense to apply for more than just mule deer, especially when the point fee isn't that much of an add-on for other species. But I definitely look at the pros and cons to this as well.
It's no secret that a lot of point systems are broken. So I have taken a hard look at some of the costs of continuing to apply for certain species and what it would mean to build up points for some of those species across my lifetime. Would my money be better spent? And will I ever actually draw? Those are hard questions to answer, which is why there are states and species I do not build points for at all.
While I apply in a lot of states, I do so mainly so I set myself up to have mule deer hunts each and every year, and at the same time, I try to ensure that down the road I can have tags as well. I have a random goal to take a mule deer in every western state and to accomplish this goal, I might have to skip out on some states I regularly hunt. But no matter what, my yearly plan stays the same. I try to put at least two mule deer tags in my pocket each year. Some years I'm lucky and I have three to four mule deer tags, but having more tags that are within tight windows means I'll be stretched on time and can't fully dedicate to each hunt. Which is why I have had the rare occasion where I have turned back in some tags.
Application is a phenomenal time of year! And in all honesty, it's the time of year where I really dive in and look at each unit, dissect the terrain and the data to see if it's a unit I want to hunt mule deer.
So, now is the time to dig in and do the research so that you ensure yourself an opportunity to go hunt mule deer this fall — your GOHUNT INSIDER account has everything you need to put tags in your pocket!